January 7, 2012
The Jarawa tribe is 403-strong. Its members are trusting, innocent and hugely vulnerable to exploitation, living in a jungle reserve on South Andaman. The islands are a spectacular magnet for tourists, set in the Bay of Bengal and belonging to India.
The role of the police is to protect tribespeople from unwelcome and intrusive outsiders. But on this occasion the officer had accepted a £200 bribe to get the girls to perform. “I gave you food,” he reminded them at the start of the video.
Every day hundreds of tourist cars line up on the Andaman Trunk Road, which winds through the reserve. Signs at the entrance warn them of the rules; no pictures, no contact, nothing to disturb the tribe members. Most are already struggling to come to grips with the diseases of the outside world which have beset them since they started to make forays out of the jungle 14 years ago.
But, on the day the Observer visited, when the gates opened the cameras immediately started clicking. Tourists threw bananas and biscuits to the tribespeople at the roadside, as they would to animals in a safari park.